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The Truth About Your ‘Number’

Posted May 12 2014 - 7:00pm
Tagged With: hooking up, number, sex

As you probably learned during your first late-night girl-talk bonding session with your brand-new college besties, everyone comes to college with unique sexual experiences, and no two collegiettes are the same. Still, as you also probably found during that secret-spilling session, it can seem impossible not to compare your hot-and-heavy histories (or lack thereof).

And thus, “your number” is born: the number of people you’ve slept with. For some, it means almost nothing; for others, it can be a huge source of stress and overall insecurity. It can be especially difficult when you consider that many collegiettes feel self-conscious about their virginities, while others are subjected to sl*t-shaming for having active sex lives. We asked collegiettes and college guys to share their thoughts on the nature of “the number” and how it plays into their love lives. Check out what these ladies and gents had to say!

Do girls’ numbers matter to them?

According to the Anna Faris chick flick What’s Your Number?, the average number of partners that a woman has in her life (before settling down with “The One”) is 10.5 (although, according to a survey reported in The Telegraph, the average number is closer to seven). To Anna – and many collegiettes on campuses across the country—this number seems low; it makes them worry that they’ve gone too far and been with too many different partners to find happiness in the future. Others might be shocked; 10.5 sounds like a heck of a lot of sex buddies if you’ve never had sex at all or have only ever been committed to one person. So, with all of these comparisons in mind, we asked collegiettes to share whether they actually care about their number. While they say it isn’t the be-all and end-all of their sex lives or self-esteem, they definitely do pay attention to it.

“My number is actually something I've thought about a lot, because somehow it got much higher than I would have wanted. I don't regret anything per se, but I think your number can really come to mean more than it should. When I first started thinking about it, I even asked my friends if it made me a sl*t! And I know very well that it doesn't; I just couldn't help but compare my number to others' and question my decisions.” – Alice*, a sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles

“I think the number matters in context: hook-up sex vs. exclusive/boyfriend-girlfriend sex. Personally, I think your number matters less if it wasn't a random hook-up. Having sex with five different boyfriends is definitely 100 times better than having sex with five random dudes [whom] you can't even attribute a face to a name.” – Emma*, a sophomore at Duke University

“I get kind of self-conscious about having a low number... it’s because I was a virgin going into college and haven’t met any guys who’ve worked hard enough for me. But I feel like when guys hear you aren’t experienced, they freak out like you’re going to be clingy, so they run away. I’m proud that I haven’t had random sex, but I feel like it’s a double-edged sword.” – Hilary*, a senior at Skidmore College

“It depends on how long you’re in a relationship. My best friend that goes to Cornell has this thing where every time she or one of her housemates has sex with a new person, they text each other with a number. Just a number. Sometimes I get a text that says 13 or something like that. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s kind of funny. Kind of makes me want to contribute...” – Liana*, a senior at Skidmore College

“My number definitely affects my sexual decisions. I have a boyfriend, but if I didn't I definitely wouldn't have one-night stands, because I really don't want it to go up! At the end of the day, I don't think numbers really matter that much, as long as you're being careful (using protection/birth control, etc.). – Megan*, a junior at Boston College

Is there an ideal number?

So, collegiettes are somewhat concerned with their own numbers, whether they’re high or low. Since collegiettes on both sides of the spectrum feel a bit insecure about their experience levels (at least, about how they think other people view them), we had to ask ourselves: is there such thing as “the perfect number”? We asked girls and guys to share their thoughts:

The guys say:

“I don’t think it matters to me. I don’t think a high number is a bad thing. There’s a double standard that way; if a girl has a high number, she’s stigmatized, but a guy with a high number seems like he’s pimping or something. But if I find out someone has hooked up with a lot of people before me, I feel less special.” – Miles*, a senior at Skidmore College

“If her number’s high, I’m just going to be imagining her hooking up with other guys. I don’t want to see that image. I don’t think there’s a perfect number... It’s probably more about how many were random hook-ups and how many were actually serious.” – Jorge*, a junior at San Diego State University

“There’s no perfect number. It definitely just depends on the person. It’s cool when she’s experienced. But if her number’s really high she’s been around the block, and that’s just kind of gross.” – Silas*, a junior at Middlebury College

“Obviously I don’t want to hear that she’s slept with a ton of guys, but if she’s sleeping with me, I have no reason to complain, do I? Who cares what her number is?” – Dave*, a senior at Brown University

“I like being in a relationship, so I guess I’d have to say I hope her number is low since that means she’s serious about who she chooses to sleep with. Maybe like five or under, I guess.” – Mike*, a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder

The girls say:

“No, I don’t think there’s such a thing as the perfect number. It’s personal for everyone.” – Leah, a senior at Skidmore College

“I feel like if someone had like 15 already during college, that’s a lot. I can’t really pinpoint a good number – I think it all depends on if you’ve dated someone or not. I don’t believe that people should just be with one person for their entire life, though... at least not without testing the waters with other people first.” – Salena*, a junior at Northwestern University

“Most of my friends are already seriously dating someone, if they’re not already engaged. So I guess a low number would be ideal because that means you’ve found guys, or the guy, who you want to stay with for a long time.” – Meredith*, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Clearly, there’s no consensus on an “ideal” number, and guys and girls don’t see numbers exactly the same way: what we see as gaining experience or testing the waters can come off as being promiscuous to the guys around campus. Still, that doesn’t mean that if a campus cutie you’re into comes along, you should avoid upping your number just for the sake of staying in the low side, and you definitely shouldn’t feel self-conscious about what’s happened in the past. First off, you can’t change what’s already been done, and second, the only person who needs to be happy with your number at the end of the day is you.

Plus, we had a feeling that girls were just as iffy about guys with high numbers, which means that the judgment is a two-way street – and also probably not an issue if you and that campus cutie really click. So we asked collegiettes to share their thoughts on a potential partner’s number. Check out what they had to say:

Does a potential partner’s number matter to girls?

Collegiettes certainly care a lot – if not more – about other people’s numbers than they do about their own, specifically potential partners’. Come on, you know you’re curious: has this new hottie in your life been around the block, or is he or she relatively fresh to the hook-up game (and ready to experience all those fun, new things with you)? Talking to your new partner about your past sexual history can be ultra-awkward, but these collegiettes say they’d rather know a partner’s number right off the bat regardless.

“I do put weight on a person's number, but I kind of hate that it matters to me. I know that a ‘number’ is a very rigid way of evaluating someone and that there is a lot of context behind how each person arrives at their number. However, I can't help but be put off by a guy who has a number that's through the roof! If a potential partner reveals a high number to me, I can't help but think he's just waiting for a girl – any girl –  to say yes. That doesn't make me feel special, and as a result, I am less interested in him.” – Connie, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University

“Talking with my boyfriend about our ‘numbers’ was kind of awkward, but I'm really glad that we got it out of the way. If I didn't know his, I would always be wondering, so it's better just to know. Plus, it wasn't as high as I thought it would be, so talking about it was kind of a relief!” – Megan

Unfortunately, this interest in other people’s numbers can backfire. While you’re fishing for background info on your crush’s nookie experience, he or she might be doing the same for you (if the quotes from the college guys above are any evidence). Plus, the unavoidable fact is that sometimes it seems like collegiettes can’t help but comment on each other’s numbers, too, which means that comparisons and even judgments abound – even if they come from within.

Alice says that this gossip-driven phenomenon is all too common. “What's funny is I would never judge anyone else for [her] number (okay, maybe if it was, like, 100), but I judge myself for it!” she says. “I've never felt directly judged for it and my friends have been mostly super reassuring, but sometimes they would make a subtle comment that hurt me a little. Everyone has a personal approach to sex and casual sex and dating, and somehow a concrete number can mean way more than it should within their belief system.”

Alice says that the college hook-up culture has led to her having a higher number than she would have expected, which may be to blame for many collegiettes’ insecurities about their numbers. She explains, “I think a big part of it is me searching for a relationship... and failing, because the dating scene is so messed up in college.”

Is there a double standard?

Alice isn’t alone in her reaction to having a high number. For many collegiettes, having a “high” number – which we know is completely relative and subjective – can be a huge source of insecurity. Plus, the differing social understandings of female versus male sexuality can make girls with higher numbers feel like targets or like they have to keep their numbers secret. Our collegiettes reveal that guys, on the other hand, tend to escape condemnation for fooling around with multiple ladies. Check out their thoughts on the double standard for sex:

“There's definitely a double standard when it comes to an acceptable number for men and women. I think that comes from the idea that men are generally more willing to have sex (lower standards, more promiscuous), so women who behave similarly and have an equal number are deemed ‘sl*ts’ because they've gone against the stereotype of what women should be doing (saving themselves for significant others, saying no).” – Connie

“I really do think there's a double standard, because when we say that a guy's number makes him a 'sl*t,' it's funny, and when we say it about a girl, it's shameful. I know deep down that your number doesn't matter in any way—it’s just a number!—but it can really hurt your self-esteem. My advice is to not let it!” – Alice

“There’s an obvious double standard between guys and girls. A guy who graduated when I was a freshman slept with over 60 different women. If he were a girl he’d have been treated differently. I want to say no, [numbers don’t matter to me], but that’s not true.” – Liana

“I think there's totally a double standard between men and women. Men with higher numbers, in my experience, are praised as true bros, while girls are usually labeled sl*ts. It's totally unfair!” – Megan

“I do believe there is a double standard; guys are expected to have a higher number than girls so that they can always be the more experienced one. People look down on girls if they sleep around too much, which I don't think is fair. If you're a sexual creature and you like the pleasure, you go do you!” – Emma

The double standard that still pervades college campuses today is not only biased and unfair, but also completely misogynistic. Fortunately, collegiettes aren’t taking this treatment any longer: ladies across the country are speaking out about their feelings on the issue, starting dialogues and continuously showing that they aren’t afraid to be themselves, no matter what their number. One notable example is the international SlutWalk movement, which aims to reappropriate the word “sl*t” and do away with the stigma often associated with women who have active sex lives or dress provocatively (the movement is especially concerned with the role that sl*t-shaming plays in rape culture and victim-blaming). At the end of the day, your number doesn’t define you; the definition of the number itself is only important if we allow it to be. If you really feel ashamed of your number, change the narrative: don’t engage in gossipy conversations about other collegiettes’ sex lives (yet another reason why the Golden Rule is always a good idea), and when a potential partner asks, share as much as you’re willing to and ask that he or she respect the fact that your past is in the past. The point is that you’re with this new potential SO now, and the last thing you want to do is worry about past experiences when something so exciting is happening now.

Sex—or a lack thereof—is a personal choice, and there’s no right or wrong amount of partners to have. Forget what Anna Faris’s What’s Your Number? character said; just do whatever (or whomever) you’d like!

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